The mechanics of listening to an LP—removing the vinyl platter from the sleeve, placing it on the turntable, perhaps locking it down, moving the arm over, and lowering the cartridge and stylus—impose an unhurried experience. The process sets the stage for what the late composer Pauline Oliveros called “deep listening.” Four new vinyl releases from ECM call for such deep listening; in addition to going against the grain of our short-attention-span culture, they also counter the burgeoning social tendencies toward nativism and nationalism. The session leaders represent a global diversity that becomes borderless in the music: Six-string electric and acoustic bassist Bjorn Meyer (Provenance) hails from Sweden; oud virtuouso Anouar Brahem (Blue Maqams) was born and educated in Tunisia and has lived in Paris; pianist/vocalist David Virelles (Gnosis) grew up in Cuba; and pianist Vijay Iyer (Far from Over) is the New York–based son of Indian Tamil immigrants.
Meyer, who has played with Anouar Brahem, Nik Bärtsch’s Ronin, Swedish nyckelharpa player Johan Hedin and percussionist Fredrik Gille (in the Swedish folk group Bazar Blå), and the late Persian harpist and singer Asita Hamidi, adds to the ECM catalog of remarkable solo bass albums with his first under his own name. The dozen pieces, some augmented with electronics, are derived from 60-second improvised snippets he previously recorded. With his basses sounding like low-tuned guitars, he creates a folk-jazz minimalism with especially rich resonances owing in part to the sonics of the Lugano Radio Studio where he recorded. The music is like a slowly revolving mobile. That quality is shared by the compositions and the playing on Brahem’s 11th ECM album, a double LP that features pianist Django Bates, bassist Dave Holland, and drummer Jack DeJohnette. It evokes an internationalist slow blues based on an Arabic modal system—hence the title Blue Maqams. Brahem’s circuitous plucking on the oud is at its most magical in the company of these three like-minded, genre-defying masters of space and time.
On three LP sides and 18 tracks, David Virelles moves between ruminative and tumultuous solo piano pieces and variegated collaborations with vocalist/percussionist Román Díaz and members of the Nosotros Ensemble of flutes, clarinets, bass, strings, steel pans, myriad percussion, and vocals. Steeped in and extrapolating from pan-African and Cuban spiritual and musical traditions, Gnosis feels like a series of deeply rooted rituals.
Vijay Iyer’s new recording boasts the most conventional jazz lineup of these releases. The sextet includes Graham Haynes (cornet, flugelhorn), Steve Lehman (alto sax), Mark Shim (tenor sax), Stephan Crump (double-bass), and Tyshawn Sorey (drums). But in three sides of magnificent post-bop music, the players’ long history of collaboration, the addition of Fender Rhodes and electronics, and Iyer’s shrewd compositions justifies—and will no doubt further elevate—Iyer’s vaunted critical standing.
The vinyl pressings, not without occasional physical blemishes on my copies, lend soft spaciousness and between-the-notes warmth to the celebrated crystalline precision of the Manfred Eicher productions. More crucially, the music on all four releases, in different ways, provides much-needed emotional refueling in what Iyer calls “a time of fierce urgency and precarity.”